Shopkeepers on main street use a simple practice to let people know they’re open for business. There’s usually a sign or some bright neon that says “come on in, we’re open.” This is how retail operators get traffic down their aisles, eyes on goods and customers at their registers.

But is there such a sign for B2B companies? In today’s digital world, our websites are open 24 hours a day. Or are they? Is an always-on website the equivalent of a main street sign? Do our websites send a message that says, in so many words, we are open for business and would like you to view our wares? Or do our websites send a different message?

I spend a considerable amount of time every week on the websites of professional service firms. I can tell you that most of these websites are sending a message. These websites say, we’re closed. Is your website sending this message? Are you turning away people at your front door? How can you even know? I’d like to show you a much better way.

Key Take-Away:

The experience a website delivers determines whether or not a person will take next steps.

A train story

Imagine that you are on a main street in a quaint little village. A certain shop catches your eye. Let’s assume that it offers toy trains of all types, the kinds of trains that take time to setup. But once those trains are up and running, they are so fascinating that children and adults both just can’t seem to stop watching them. Sometimes they even tussle over who gets to run the controller and play the train engineer.

You see a sign outside of the shop that says Alpine trains and you see a picture of a toy train that is set in the mountains. There’s a little train depot and the train cars light up. There is a picture of a delighted child wearing an engineer’s cap and holding a controller. You just can’t resist this. You swing open the door, as the little bell rings, and go inside.

But once you get inside, you see a large gregarious man, the shopkeeper, but you really don’t see any trains. Instead, the shopkeeper says: hello and let me tell you why we’re the greatest train shop in the world. No one else has our unique value proposition for toy trains. The people we’ve hired are the very best in their field.

You are a bit put-off by this large gregarious man, but you really want to experience the cool train you saw on the picture outside the shop. So you say: can I please drive one of the trains?

The shopkeeper says: our organization has been in business since 1929 and we’re the largest train store in our region. For more than 70 years, when people want toy trains, they turn to us. We are the most trusted train store in the world.

Again, you are a bit taken aback. You’re starting to wonder if the shopkeeper is listening to you. So you say again: may I please see one of your trains and maybe even take a controller in hand and run it for a few minutes. I’m thinking about buying one of these for my family.

The shopkeeper says: our staff has certifications from the most prestigious toy train schools in the world. So you can trust their judgment and recommendations.

You think to yourself – really? I just said what I want. Why are you not listening to me?

In disgust, you turn around and walk out of that shop. You say to yourself, as you are walking away, all that guy wanted to do was talk about his shop. He didn’t seem to care at all about my desire to experience a cool toy train.


What experience are you delivering?

Do you get the analogy? Every day, people visit the websites of professional service firms hoping to have an experience. But more often than not, they end up walking away because the website does not deliver the experience that they want. Instead, the website just brags about the company or goes on-and-on about topics that don’t matter to the visitors.

Now you might be thinking to yourself – that’s all well and good for toy trains, a consumer product. Those types of purchases are impulse buys where people don’t have to put a lot of thought into them and the risk is very low for the buyer. We sell B2B products and services that are complicated and take a long time to explain. The decision-maker’s reputation is on the line. If they choose poorly, their career could be damaged and their company could lose big-time.

Guilty as charged. I full-well concede that the train analogy has its limits. But this is where the analogy really works. People visit toy train shops because they want to have a certain experience. Their goal is to discover whether or not that feeling of fascination that they have in the train shop is something they could take home with them and experience again and again, maybe even with their family.

When people visit professional service and B2B websites, they are looking for ideas to help them achieve a goal, realize an opportunity or overcome a challenge. The experience that website delivers determines whether or not that person will take next steps. The experience determines whether or not they will become a client.

Today, most people who build websites seem to operate from the notion that the sole reason someone would visit their website is to learn about their company, the people on the team or even the work the company does.

I think that’s flat wrong.

Living in the age of content marketing, I believe people now visit websites to see who has ideas that can help them achieve their goals. The fundamental question here is – what do we market? And this is where the train store analogy really foregrounds the biggest shift I see happening today.

If you were to think of your website as a set of aisles and shelves in a store, what would you put on your shelves? What would you stock and put on display for people to view? How do your choices about what to display determine the experience that someone has in your store? How do your choices determine whether or not someone becomes your client? 


Two kinds of websites

I believe that most companies today are building one of two kinds of websites: online brochures or idea-driven websites. What’s the difference?

People who build online-brochure style websites stock their shelves with claims about their company – who they are and why they’re great. They put their people on display, their degrees and credentials and years of experience. They may even put customer testimonials on display or case studies. But fundamentally, these websites talk about the company.

But do online-brochures deliver the experience that the person visiting the website desires? I think not. This is tantamount to the gregarious shopkeeper bragging about his train store rather than allowing someone to experience one of his trains first-hand.


A different kind of experience

There is another type of website today that is delivering a very different type of experience. I call these idea-driven websites. These websites still make their company information available, but they don’t stock their shelves with it.

Instead, idea-driven websites, from the very moment a user lands on that site, respect the user’s desire to accomplish a goal, realize an opportunity and overcome a challenge. These websites deliver ideas and content in an organized manner based not on the company’s service offerings but instead on goals their users are trying to accomplish.

These websites are creating a level of fascination that is like a person standing in a train store and being mesmerized by those engines, cars and cabooses going round and round. People who visit idea-driven websites have long user sessions and spend hours thinking about the ideas the websites offer.

Most importantly, idea-driven websites predispose users to want to take next steps. They stimulate leaning-in behavior. These websites create trust with the people who build the content. These experts quickly become trusted advisors and when they speak, their audiences listen. These websites impact client acquisition and revenue.

Isn’t this exactly what you want your website to accomplish for your company? 


Where to go from here

I’ve developed an E-Book called Ten Things Service Websites Must Do To Drive Revenue. This free E-Book gives you ten key insights about how to build an idea-driven website and even how to know that it’s working for you. If you want your website to create engagement with your users, I know this E-Book will be a huge help to you.